When you turn the water on, you may not think about where it comes from, but you certainly think of what it’s costing you and your family.
Victoria Bonney said for the four years she has lived in Winthrop, her water and sewer bill has gone up every year.
"It was less expensive for us to truck in water and fill the pool than it would be to just turn on the hose and fill it from town," Bonney said.
Bonney also owns a two-family home in East Boston, where she said for double the usage, her bill is lower than it is in Winthrop.
"With three kids, that could go a long way for groceries," said Bonney.
According to the 2021 Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) annual water and sewer retail rate survey, Winthrop has one of the highest rates around.
See the full survey at the bottom of the article.
Adam Rogers has lived in Winthrop for 11 years. "Everyone complains, but no one wants to speak up about it," said Rogers.
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Back in 2017, Rogers installed an irrigation system that sent his water bill through the roof.
"First quarter we got the bill, and it was $997 and some odd cents. I was like, 'Oh wow.' So I cut the water to one time every other day. Following quarter, we got the bill, expecting it to be lower. To the cent, it was the exact same amount."
"I contacted the town. They couldn't really explain it," said Rogers.
Instead, the Town of Winthrop sent him several documents from their website, which now includes a Frequently Asked Questions Page regarding the water and sewer system.
Many residents, like Rogers, would like to know, "Why doesn’t my rate go down when I use less?"
According to the Town website, "The largest expense in the water/sewer fund budget is for the assessment paid to the MWRA. The Town does not have control over this assessment."
The interim Town Manager and Police Chief Terence Delehanty has lived in Winthrop his whole life.
“I have to pay it too,” said Delehanty. “I pay my quarterly just like everyone else.”
Right now, the Town of Winthrop sees about a 3-5% increase yearly from the MWRA assessments.
“If you look at MWRA, DEP assessments, pension assessments, and insurance and debt, that’s 77.9% of the budget. Those are fixed costs that don't go away. What's going to change is the assessment from MWRA on our usage," explained Delehanty.
According to the town, the remaining factors of your water and sewer bill include things like personnel, principal interest, services, supplies, and indirect costs. That combined number totals the quarterly rate per 100 cubic feet.
Below is a full breakdown of how water and sewer rates are calculated in the Town of Winthrop.
Martha Davis, a Northeastern University Law Professor, has been studying water affordability for years.
"Everybody needs water, you know. You need water, whether you can afford it or not," said Davis.
She told NBC10 Boston that some cities, like Boston, offer discounts to their senior citizens.
"That's one of the things that we're looking at, is how are cities responding to needs that people have real needs for water?" Davis said.
"Here in New England, a major issue is aging pipes that need to be replaced, that may have led, or just are leaking. And so all of those things combined increase the cost of the local utility."
Another big chunk of the cost is making sure your water is safe to drink.
“A drop of water that falls today will find its way into your tap, probably in about seven years," said Joe Favaloro, the executive director of the MWRA Advisory Board.
"Water and sewer bills have always been an issue. And clearly, they've gone up each and every year. And it's pretty dramatic," Favaloro told NBC10 Boston.
"There's all different little nuances in every community. It depends how the community sets up their enterprise fund," said Favaloro.
Delehanty told NBC10 Boston the enterprise fund must be self-sufficient.
"There’s no general fund money that offsets any expenses for our water and sewer rates. Other communities have offsets through their general funds, Winthrop does not."
"We don't have the infrastructure to build a water system here. It's a costly venture. Would it be cheaper? I look at the other agencies that do it, yeah, they are doing it cheaper. But you look at Lynnfield, they have a bifurcated system. One pays the MWRA, the other system doesn't pay the MWRA, so it becomes complex," Delehanty explained.
"It's whether or not you have the depth to do that. And Winthrop does not have the depth to do that. We run a budget that's really bare bones budgets, and then we have minimum personnel to run a water system."
"I want to make sure people understand that no one down the DPW with the water and sewer is getting rich on their salaries."
The Town of Winthrop recently had an audit of its water system. The findings were released in December of 2021.
"The Town of Winthrop retained the services of The Abrahams Group and Environmental Partners Group, LLC (EP) to conduct a water and sewer rate study along with a water audit to help provide recommendations for minimizing water losses."
“EP systematically evaluated the Town of Winthrop’s water supply system for potential sources of water loss. The results of the audit reveal that inaccurate metering and leaks are major potential sources of water loss. Water losses cost the Town of Winthrop approximately $1 million per year. The Town can reduce losses by diversifying their use of leak detection technologies, by implementing a meter testing program and replacing meters as needed, and by improving accuracy and documentation of CEMU values on the ASR. The Town could also improve the accuracy and utility of its recordkeeping through digitizing service logs and establishing a modern water system asset management program.”
The results of the audit reveal that inaccurate metering and leaks are major potential sources of water loss. Water losses cost the Town of Winthrop approximately $1 million per year.
The Town of Winthrop is acting on those recommendations. Chief Delehanty told NBC10 Boston the Town is under a phase plan to replace meters inside of homes, and they are also working to replace 46 miles of pipe.
“About 50% of the remaining pipes are 75 years old or older. That's a lot of pipe. If you look at replacing all the pipe at once, it's $60-$70 million, maybe more than that. It's expensive,” said Delehanty.
Favaloro with the MWRA said, "The older the infrastructure is, the more it costs to repair it."
"So I mean, all of these things, it's really a roundabout way, I guess, to say it never ends. It's just that if you're doing your job, you have to spend money to make sure that you keep the systems running properly," said Favaloro.